Xasthur – Portal of Sorrow
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Xasthur is done. All that deathly imagery, all those nooses - it's time to put up or shut up. Thankfully, Xasthur has put up in a big way, mostly. Portal of Sorrow (Disharmonic Variations, 2010) feels like a final effort, in both good and bad ways.
Let's start with the bad. Scott Conner's blog entry here details why he ended Xasthur: he was sick and tired of it. It can't be easy being the unhappiest guy in the world. His last few albums sounded tired. Starting with 2007's Defective Epitaph, Conner has played real drums instead of using a drum machine. He's not a great drummer. In fact, he's a weak one - which fits Xasthur's music. Defective Epitaph and All Reflections Drained felt like aged husks laced with youthful inspiration. Sometimes Portal of Sorrow feels like that, too: tired.
But mostly it's a lush funeral. Part of Xasthur's magic is the tension between big and small: keyboards that should be grand, but instead sound trapped in a half-floor like that in Being John Malkovich; blastbeats that should be storming, but instead suggest wobbly heartbeats. Conner plays up that tension by making this album layered. It's a headphone masterpiece: "Broken Glass Christening" pans drums left and right - the left channel has blastbeats, the right has almost jaunty accents - while ghostly whispers swirl around "The Darkest Light" in stereo.
The coup de grâce is Marissa Nadler. Conner was a genius to use her voice, which normally enjoys acoustic settings, over such tortured material. She plays the part of a funeral choir. The result is an underworld counterpart to Cocteau Twins: niblets of female cooings, but surrounded by little fires. This isn't some Dante-esque hell. It's a room an hour wide, and Conner, having built it and stewed in it for years, is wise to leave it.
So what's next? Conner's blog post says his next project has "nothing to do with metal". That's to be expected, as Xasthur ended up far away from metal. He's eBaying black metal CD's and getting stuff autographed by Mono. His blog post for the latter says that made for "a very good day". Conner, King of Pain and Lord of Lamentations, had a very good day. Does the forecast call for sunshine?